At long last, I’ve finished Plato’s Republic. I should have read it 35 years ago. I quoted it then. Maybe I appreciate it more now.
In any case, I’m going to review this with more of a summary. This is partly because a better review would require at least one more reading; probably two. A summary review is also my choice because the first run-through of this book was via audio version of this edition read by LibriVox volunteers. Because I listened as I drove, I could really only make mental notes.
Having said this, I recall what Lord Digory says at the end of “The Last Battle”, C.S. Lewis’s final book in The Chronicles of Narnia. As the Pevensies remark how the new land looks so much like the Narnia they knew, Digory explains and reminds them the Narnia they knew was only a copy of the real Narnia. As the realization dawns on the others, Digory adds, “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato…” Lewis’s immediate reference is the Socratic discussion of Forms, and the conversation of the three beds, namely, the ideal (The BED), the one created by the sub creator, the carpenter, and the one painted by the artist. In another sense, however, The Republic, itself, has become a pattern.
The central topic of the dialogue between Socrates and his fellow citizens is justice and the ideal state. But along the way, the discussion touches upon education, marriage, family, types of government, religion, and the virtues.
As I listened to Book 10, I could hear ideas echoed by Dante’s Inferno. I could also hear echoes of Lewis, himself, in The Great Divorce, and in the world in between worlds in The Magician’s Nephew.
Elsewhere throughout The Republic, the astute reader may recognize germs of ideas later developed or referenced by writers in the Western tradition. The discussion of the ideal guardián, fierce with his enemies and friendly to his companions, surely has echoes in various works. What I remembered as I listened was Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”. Also, as heard Socrates’ partner in conversation, Glaucon, mention a magic ring, I noticed a surprising similarity to Gollum’s (Sméagol’s) ring in The Hobbit.
In this particular edition, the translator adds his own examples of Socratic influences. Yet, The Republic is also a glimpse of Hellenistic culture, literature, and history. It even contains commentary on that culture, literature, and history.
Reading Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Alexis De Tocqueville, John Dewey, et.al., without first reading Plato’s Republic is like walking into the middle of a conversation at a party. One may agree or disagree with Plato, but one ought to know wherein lies the agreement or dispute.